And so the attention moves to darts

13 01 2010

Darts, as any loudmouth will tell you, is  “… a pub game watched by obese northerners with nothing better to do with their lives“. Loudmouths are also wont to query the classification of darts as a sport by pointing to its roots in public houses.

The birthplace of darts hardly negates the sport, athletics and boxing also have roots in drinking houses. The roots of football are found in the public schools of England yet this historical baggage isn’t an issue. Is the pub or the public school more corrosive to the principle of British equality? Darts is a sport. #Fact.

The effete fops that control Llandudno’s cultural quarter with rods of iron and stares of steel will probably denounce me as a philistine for my behaviour in the last week; I not only watched darts on TV I had a high old time watching. The action from the Lakeside Country Club was an addictive mix of disappointment, drama, redemption and glory.

Sadly darts is not merely the panacea for January blues, it is a sport riven by a schism. There are 2 competing governing bodies; the British Darts Organisation (BDO) & the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), and each of them run a World Championships; the traditional one is organised by the BDO and broadcast on the BBC, the PDC version is only available Sky.

Terrestrial darts viewers will have noticed a two major changes in the coverage this year; the genial host Ray Stubbs  had been replaced by the ever-irritating Colin Murray and a few familiar darters were missing, the two most notable being Denbigh’s Mark Webster and the distinctive Australian Simon Whitlock. (Thankfully I was forewarned by the Daily Post that Webby – forgive the informality but everybody in north Wales knows each other – and Whitlock were now playing in the PDC circus.) The missing darters reflect a world of competing world championships

Defection has been a problem since the PDC usurper took advantage of discontent within the BDO. In the early 1990s darters were so annoyed with the BDO’s outlook they formed a union around their demands for better pay and conditions. When the grievances remained unresolved some players formed a breakaway darts organisation. The great darts schism had happened.

The PDC, mostly funded by Sky, have been poaching for the entirety of its existence. It wasn’t just the players as referees (the people who call the numbers out) and even commentators (the iconic Sid Waddell) also joined the PDC. The rush for the cash, hype and glitz is now so pronounced it’s a major surprise if successful BDO players stay in the BDO.

You may have guessed that I’m not a fan of the PDC. There are several reasons that explain why. Firstly, it’s on Sky. Secondly, cockernee wideboy Barry Hearn, the chairman of the PDC, has publically stated his intention to break the BDO. Thirdly the PDC protrays itself as a cut above the BDO even though it is nothing more than a parasite organisation. Lastly, there is a widespread assumption that the PDC is automatically the better organisation.

The PDC would be nothing without sky’s backing or hype and the BDO is not naturally inferior. I didn’t notice a distinctly below-average competition, or a lack of skill, when I watched the BDO world championship. By all accounts there were also less drunken morons in the BDO audience than in a typical PDC tournament crowd. (“Great Atmosphere” is a noted selling point of the PDC).

The anti-BDO carping of Hearn – “You are old-fashioned”, “You are broke”, “We have a turnover of £66million, you can’t even afford an apple turnover!”, “My Dad’s bigger than yours!” etc etc – rings rather hollow.

The PDC wouldn’t admit to it but it relies on the BDO’s structure. The BDO’s structure is almost used like a production line by the PDC because it turns pub players in to the world champions that the PDC can cherrypick.. If you doubt this consider the fact that 3 of the 4 semi- finalists (2 of which were Webby and Whitlock) in this year’s PDC championship were recently playing in the BDO version. Consider how many players has the PDC’s system produced? The big names, Phil Taylor, van Barneveld, Priestley all came from the BDO.

The PDC may tell the BDO to “Get Real” but the BDO is actually more important to the sport of darts. The BDO provides the foundations with tournaments organised from the grass-roots to the élite whereas the PDC is merely the glitzy penthouse suite.

The schism in darts further underlines the corrosive impact of Rupert Murdoch on European sport. It would be bad enough if Sky TV’s effect was limited to forcibly removing darts, live league football, rugby league, European club rugby competitions, Welsh football internationals and cricket from terrestrial channels but their effect resonates more deeply.

Sky’s monied approach has helped alter the nature of sports media coverage so fundamentally it’s unlikely that certain sports will ever reappear on terrestrial channels. Sky’s approach has also facilitated the corporate takeover of sport in the early 21st century.

I’d shudder about the next stage of Sky’s takeover of sport. They have now created a cycling team that they would like to enter in the Tour de France. How long will it be before Sky develop a serious interest in pro cycling and imply that Le Tour was worthless before it held their gaze? Is another Jet Set sporting love is about to be sullied?…..





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